Panther power goes regional

Against Page County, Rappahannock senior Danika Kritter, center, demonstrates the sort of kill that helped make her Bull Run District Player of the Year. Photo by Clarissa Rutherford.

“Y-E-L-L, Y-E-L-L, everybody yell!” Chants rocked the bleachers at Rappahannock County High School Tuesday night (Nov. 9) when Panthers met Panthers for the first match of Region B District 1 quarterfinals.

In a nerve-wracking showdown, Rappahannock battled the Page County Panthers to a 4-1 victory and the right to take the next step in the regional championship tournament — a game today (Nov. 11) against No. 1-rated William Campbell.

Tuesday night, the flip-flop of the first two set points established a theme for the entire match. Rappahannock took an error with Page’s first serve, but returned the second attempt. Danika Kritter answered with her shock-and-awe jump serve and a run of three points.

Momentum plummeted after a comfortable 7-2 lead when Rappahannock passing and hitting errors abounded. Page pounced its way to a 17-25 first-set win.

The tide turned in the next set with the first offensive attack of the Bull Run Triplets: Megan “Bump” Early, Danika “Set” Kritter and Addie “Smackdown” Swindler. Their crowd-pleasing kill set the charge on course. Although the Rappahannock Panthers dominated throughout the entire game, Joslyn Smith’s set-ending smackdown inside Page’s 10-foot line propelled the hometown crowd to its feet as Rappahannock celebrated, taking the set, 25-18.

Tipping and passing and matching errors kept the two teams on a seesaw in set three. Smith’s net game broke the spell and a solid lead in mid-set. “Page traditionally tips and rolls,” coach Jackie Tederick said. “But we got caught on our heels tonight.” With a few well-positioned tips and key hits, Rappahannock ended the set, 25-16.

A true Panther catfight ensued in set four of the match when errors and triumphs balanced on both sides of the net. In a point-by-point slug out, Rappahannock tried to overcome some sloppy play, lack of communication and serving errors. The teams tied each other 11 times on the way to a 27-27 deadlock, but the key to the victory was Rappahannock’s net game, which featured Smith and Kritter with wall-like blocks, intimidating tips and sizzling spikes. The 29-27 win emptied the bleachers in a wave of celebration that spilled onto the court.

The first regional tournament win came on the heels of Rappahannock’s battle with two tough district opponents last week. On Thursday (Nov. 4), the Panthers traveled to Strasburg and conquered the Madison Mountaineers 3-1 in the Bull Run District tournament. Hannah Kopjanski touted 12 kills and 15 serve points (with five aces). Kritter tallied 10 kills and 22 set assists. Swindler added nine kills and two ace serves, and Smith threw down a matching four kills and four blocks.

From left: setter-hitter Danika Kritter (Bull Run District Player of the Year and first-team All District), libero Megan Early and hitter Addie Swindler (both second-team All District) and coach Jackie Tederick (District Coach of the Year). Photo by Clarissa Rutherford.

“The girls started off anxious and nervous,” coach Tederick explained. “Some net errors and insufficient passing led to the girls dropping the first set. However, they came into their own in the second set and thereafter. They played their game and were relentless on their attacks.

“Every single girl on the court and on the bench made this game happen. It started with Megan Early, Haley Hogan and Shelby Thornhill who determined to touch any ball on the back row. My hat is off to them for making excellent passes. Once we got the pass up from our defensive specialists, Lauren and Dani set the right spots on the net for pure domination by our hitters. Unbelievable!

“Seeing sheer happiness and conviction exuding from their pores shows that we are the most capable and best team in this state when we are determined . . . all sleepless and restless nights are totally worth it when I see it in their eyes and hearts . . . they believe. It totally felt like we were a unit. This momentum is what we needed to start region play this week.”

Not to mention that Tederick was also named the Bull Run District’s Coach of the Year, and Kritter the district’s Player of the Year.

The only disappointment of the week came in a district championship match against Strasburg. On Ram courts, Rappahannock dropped to their familiar nemesis 1-3 with scores of 19-25, 21-25, 25-18, and 25-23. The fourth set sparked much controversy when a game-determining call gave Strasburg its one-point lead. “With the distraction of the call, we fell to the Rams,” Tederick lamented. “However, I am positive we would’ve won the fourth set if it wasn’t for a bad call. The rest is left to our imagination if we had played a fifth set. The girls were fired up and my money would’ve been on Rapp. They were hungry.”

As the Lady Panthers enter their second game in the Region B tourney, Tederick expressed her views of the team: “Can’t really put into words how proud I am of the girls. They deserve to win and are unstoppable when they play as a team.”

Rappahannock travels to William Campbell High School in Naruna (south of Lynchburg) today (Nov. 11) to challenge the top-seeded Generals.